On 90 Days of Walking

On January 1st I decided to start walking (outside) at least 1 km a day. And that’s exactly what I’ve done for 90 days and counting.

I’ve walked in rain. I’ve walked in freezing rain. I’ve walked in hail.

High winds? Check. Icy sidewalks? Check, check, check.

I’ve trudged through snowdrifts and walked in multiple blizzards. I’ve logged miles on a frozen lake, on maintained sidewalks, and through backwood trails. And I have, occasionally, seen the sun.

I’ve worn hats and gloves and snow pants and heavy jackets. And that’s mostly all I’ve worn because, well, it has been winter in Canada and that is the dress code. I’ve worn boots and I’ve worn plastic bags inside those boots after they sprung a leak. And now, finally, I’m logging most of my miles (kilometers) in sneakers. Except for Monday, when we had an April snowstorm that closed schools and left the sidewalks covered in slippery slush.

I’ve had an Apple Watch for years now and, at first, the daily activity rings were a great motivator. But last year, when I had some health flareups and burned out completely on exercise (Exhibit A: 25 km last July), those rings started making me feel…terrible. Maintaining streaks and closing rings sometimes (often?) took precedence over proper recovery periods and mental health. I literally ran in the dark at the foot of my bed on multiple occasions to close rings. Arbitrary billion-dollar-tech-constructed rings.

I’m not against rings or related equivalents. They worked for me for years. But then they didn’t and it took me longer than I would have liked to come to terms with that reality. Because I had learned to crave those gold stars from Apple.

But I did stop closing rings. And literally nothing bad happened.

Last fall I tried to exercise regularly but with the chief aim of prioritizing mental and physical health. In September I ran every day – no set distance and no rings, but I was still so relieved when the month was over. Every day felt like work. And as much as I appreciate our treadmill, it’s a depressing piece of equipment.

So on January 1st, I decided I would walk – outside for 1 km every day. There was no set goal or streak. Just walking. Outside. Through the Canadian winter. Until it didn’t work for me.

It’s still working.

See burnout creeping in by July 2021; ironically enough, and without trying or monitoring, my second highest mileage over the last two years occurred in March 2022, with 180.0 km of walking. Also I realize, to some, 57 workouts/month might sound excessive, but some of these would be 0.3 km walks to the mailbox. Or 0.1 km runs at the foot of my bed. When I was trying to close my rings I recorded…everything.

1 km doesn’t feel like much. But it’s enough to get outside, reset my mood, and put my heart muscles to work.

…the benefits of exercise begin with any amount of exercise that is more than zero.

Ellen Vora

Working it out across the first 90 days of 2022, I averaged 4.0 km/day. A lot of this is related to our walks to/from school, but it also represents walks with John, close friends, and even a few solo walks.

I no longer record everything (for example, the walk to/from the school bus is rarely recorded unless I haven’t already logged my 1 km for the day).

It has been a wonderful, wholly positive experience. I don’t have to think about getting outside each day – I just go. Some days I walked solo until I reached the 1 km mark and then raced into the warmth of the house. Other days I’ve set out two or three times with different companions.

But, without a doubt, the benefits of this daily walking routine have been more mental than physical. The cold air has woken me up on days when I felt exhausted. The birds and the trees and the snow have given a source of lightness to the world, and my thoughts, on this dark, long winter.

A friend recently asked me how long I’ll keep up with daily walks outside.

I’m not sure. I didn’t make a goal for the duration. For now it works and I like it. It doesn’t feel like a burden – it feels like a privilege. I am healthy and mobile and live in a place with safe sidewalks and clear air and I have the use of my legs. This too shall pass, so I’m enjoying it now.

But I hope when the time comes that I miss a day – and that time will come – that I shrug and move on with my life and then, hopefully, wake up the following morning and walk if I’m able.

I’m currently on Day 97. And, for the record Apple, I haven’t looked at my rings a single time in 2022. And literally nothing bad has happened.

Your turn? Does anyone else have to be careful with their exercise patterns? Anyone else overstretch their limits and burnout like I did? Anyone else prioritizing low-impact walking over other forms of more intensive exercise?

Header photo by trail on Unsplash

(Pursuing) Life with A Broad Margin

I’ve talked about minimalism a number of times here on the blog and embrace a number of minimalistic tendencies. That said – I still have plenty of excess “stuff” and certainly couldn’t fit all my possessions in a carry-on suitcase. Perhaps Joshua Becker (a prominent “minimalist”) clarifies my view of minimalism best when he defines the pursuit as: “the intentional promotion of things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from them.

A few weeks ago I went for a walk. Just a walk. No headphones. No companion. Just a walk with my thoughts. Usually, my mind darts off in a dozen different directions and I spend the whole walk untangling them. But this time I ended up with a singular focus – the concept of simplicity.

While in other seasons I might have been (perhaps subconsciously) aiming for adventure or challenge or achievement, right now, I realized, I’m craving simplicity.

I looked up a definition of simple (remember dictionaries?) and here are some of Google’s suggestions (I remember dictionaries, but don’t actually own one):

  • plain, basic, or uncomplicated in form, nature, or design
  • without much decoration or ornamentation
  • easily understood or done; presenting no difficulty
  • free of secondary complications; not limited or restricted

Life isn’t always going to be uncomplicated or easy (Twer that it was so simple; Hail, Caesar! anyone?). People I love will get sick. Tragic things will happen. Life will be hard and heartbreaking and frustrating and confusing. But for now – and hopefully in the middle of future challenges – I can try to approach life with a mind for simplicity.

I have done without electricity, and tend the fireplace and stove myself. Evenings, I light the old lamps. There is no running water, I pump the water from the well. I chop the wood and cook the food. These simple acts make man simple; and how difficult it is to be simple.

Carl Jung

Sometimes complications and states of busyness are out of our hands. But, much of the time, our to-do’s and limitations are, at least in part, self-imposed.

I have a relative who fills virtually every minute of their life with something (including some very intensive hobbies) but is constantly bemoaning how busy they are. This person has purposefully built a life with no margin, but then complains about having a life with no margin.

Counterintuitively, achieving “simple” – be it for a wedding cake or in our weekly calendar – can take a lot of hard work and intention. It is difficult to be simple. Why? Perhaps because it doesn’t leave us anywhere to hide?

When we strip away the excess, are we happy with what is left?

I’m also coming to realize that if I want margin, I’m going to have to pursue it. I have a way of filling in all that white space with messy scribbles of things I could/should/have to do and that margin I want and need…poof…vanishes.

Margin is the space between our load and our limits. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating.

Richard A. Swenson

As I went through a brief Thoreau kick last year, I realized he has a lot to say about these subjects.

I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans. Nay, I often did better than this. There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hands. I love a broad margin to my life.

Henry David Thoreau

Why does it feel shameful to admit I love a broad margin to my life? To say with confidence I need some a lot of white space around my to-dos and calendar reminders.

Why do I feel bad admitting I enjoy nothing more on a Saturday morning than to spend it…puttering?

Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry. Men say that a stitch in time saves nine, and so they take a thousand stitches to–day to save nine to–morrow.


Finding the right balance between a full and contented life and an overfull life can be hard. And I also know it’s going to change – likely dramatically – as our family dynamics shift. Simple will almost certainly look and feel different from year to year.

To the relative I mentioned, my preferred margin would likely be far too liberal; for others, my margin would be too small.

But, overall, regardless of the margin we want or the level of simplicity we’re pursuing, I think the following thought is a good place to start:

Less but better.

Greg McKeown

Your turn. Are you in a season of adding responsibilities and hobbies and adventures or, like me, are you craving simplicity and a broad margin to life? It can be surprisingly difficult to define – and achieve – the idea of “simple”. Thoughts?

Header photo by Evie S. on Unsplash

Keep Moving (by Maggie Smith)

A few weeks ago Nicole mentioned the book Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change by Maggie Smith; after reading her description of the book, I immediately hopped over to my library portal and placed a hold. (A copy of which, fortuitously, happened to be on the shelf at my local branch; how I love the library).

Keep Moving is written from a position of vulnerability. The author had suffered a number of devastating miscarriages and the surprising breakdown of her relationship. I can’t directly relate to either of these traumas, but I found the takeaways universally applicable.

My summary: I really, really, really enjoyed this book.

In terms of structure, the book is quite short and most pages contain a single quote from the author or a string of related thoughts. I used a lot of sticky notes.

Hopefully by now you know how I feel about quotes – here are some of my favourites. Any bolded emphasis is mine and I’ve added a bit of commentary within “[ ]”.

I believe strongly in the importance of revision, but here’s something I believe just as strongly: If you’re not careful, you can revise the life right out of a piece of writing. If you’re not careful, you can scrub all the weirdness and wildness right out of it. As counterintuitive as it sounds, you can polish it dull. // The same applies to our lives. If we’re not careful, we can revise the life right out of them. We can polish our lives dull. [Revision is my favourite part of writing; in some ways, it’s also one of my favourite parts of life as I love to declutter and minimize and simplify. But, sometimes, the mess and the chaos can be a great source of beauty and creativity; it’s all about finding the right balance.]

Stop rewinding and replaying the past in your mind. Live here, now. Give the present the gift of your full attention. [I’ve always loved how Mary Oliver puts it: “Attention is the beginning of devotion.” In my #joyfinding exercises (inspired by Ingrid Fetell Lee) I’ve been doing just that. Noticing. Paying attention. To sticks on the ground and birds in the tree… I also appreciate Smith’s articulation of the idea that giving our attention to something/someone is a gift.]

You are not betraying your grief by feeling joy. You are not being graded, and you do not receive extra credit for being miserable 100% of the time. [Isn’t it hard to give ourselves permission to feel the full range of human emotion? We’re very conscious of fitting within the narrow box of societal approval – as if the world tells us: “This is when you can feel sad, this is when you can feel happy and never the twain shall meet.”]

Let life be a little ramshackle right now. Let it be messy and jerry-rigged and held together with binder clips and duct tape. Let it not be okay – and know, for now, that’s okay. [In a family that holds things together with binder clips and duct tape – literally – this made me laugh and then nod in agreement. It’s okay to not have everything figured out – but also hard to admit that we don’t have it all figured out in a world of Instagram-filtered lives.]

Every person you encounter has a struggle, a hidden wound, something they carry that hurts them. Be kind – maybe something you do or say today will be the good medicine they need. [We (almost) never know what someone else is experiencing. From our closest friends to the stranger we pass on the sidewalk. A cheerful hello or an unexpected phone call might offer them something we never knew they needed.]

Be brave enough to ask for help when you need it. There is no merit badge for Doing All the Hard Things Alone. Reach out.  [This reminds me of the quote above about not getting bonus points for being miserable all the time and has parallels to the book I’m working through by Jennie Allen – Find Your People. Life is better together but it can take a lot of courage to reach out and say “I need help.”]

Think of grief, anger, worry as bricks or planks of wood. Stop staring at the materials, half believing they were delivered to you by mistake, half expecting a truck to haul them away. Accept that these are your materials right now. Start building. [2021 was a tough year for me mentally; I worked through The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris for the 3rd time and something finally clicked about the ACT method and I feel like I’ve made some significant strides; in this method, “A” represents acceptance and is, perhaps, the hardest step of all. How true that we often get materials – or worksites – we don’t want and would never have chosen. But we have to work with what we have and start building.]

Do not turn away joy – even if it arrives at an inconvenient time, even if you think you should be grieving, even if you think it’s “too soon.” Joy is always on time. [Mic drop; #joyfinding.]

Recognize the difference between the end and an end. Articles matter. Try not to catastrophize. For as short as life is, know it is also a container big enough to hold things you could not have imagined six months ago or six years ago.

Let the hard days be hard. When you mourn a person, it’s a form of love. You mourn their loss because they mattered, because the world without them is diminished. Sit still with your grief if you need to, then lift it and carry it with you. [When a friend was widowed several years ago, I remember reading a quote that said: “There is no expiration date on grief.” Don’t we sometimes feel the need to move on according to a schedule? But grief/loss/trauma are emotions that we carry with us – in different iterations – forever.]

[On the idea of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of filling cracks with gold or otherwise highlighting or emphasizing imperfections]: I am letting the seams show – those signs of survival, those scars I can be proud of – and letting them shine.// Writing about my own loss and grief has given me a sense of purpose and a new appreciation of, even gratitude for, my wounds. Of course the scales are not balanced. I would choose a happy, intact family over any words I’ll write about the loss of that happy, intact family. I would choose live births every time. But I wasn’t given that choice. If I experience brokenness, the least I can do is make something from it, something that might help me heal. [This reminds me of the Ann Voskamp quote, which I can’t track down verbatim, which says something along the lines that our cracks are our “seeing-through-to-God places.” We can lament the cracks, try to hide them while being self-sufficient; or view them as “seeing-through-to-God places.”]

Do something today that will bring you joy even if you know you will not do it well. Let go of the idea that you have to be the best at something to do it. Train yourself to crave experience, not perfection. [For skiing, parenting or just life in general – which is always messier than we expect it to be – I can relate.]

Speak without silencing others. Listen without losing your own voice. [Mic drop #2.]

Acknowledge your desire for predictability – and think about how it competes with your sense of adventure, possibility, and surprise. Let yourself shrug. Let yourself be unsure. [I want to know, I want to be sure. I crave predictability. In The Happiness Trap Harris talks about “riding the wave of discomfort.” Sometimes we just have to ride that wave through to adventure…]

Don’t compound your anxiety by being ashamed of it. [She doesn’t say we shouldn’t look for concrete ways to address circumstances that are leading to anxiety, but she says not to compound the issue by being ashamed. Shame over our anxiety, of course, leads to more anxiety. It’s a hard and, sometimes unavoidable, cycle. But trying to break that cycle is important for growth. It reminds me of my mother’s blood pressure; it’s always good when she takes a reading at home (she’s a retired nurse) but it spikes when she walks through the door of the doctor’s office. Anxiety over her blood pressure reading and the doctor’s response…causes her blood pressure to go up. Sound familiar?]

You are the same person you were before this grief [she talks about grief specifically, but I think this thought can relate to any event – those perceived to be positive or negative] and yet you have been transformed by it. Both are true, as impossible as that sounds: you are the same and you are different. Let yourself be changed, and trust that change is not erasure. 

Go easy on yourself today. If you feel a little weary, a little ragged, that’s okay; that’s how soul hangovers feel. This will pass. [Soul hangovers. I’d never heard that term before, but can’t we all relate to this sentiment? And that this too shall pass.]

This last quote stopped me in my tracks.

Today I think of myself as a “recovering pessimist.” I know that optimism is not at odds with wisdom. It’s quite the opposite. I think of cynicism as cool but lazy, while hope is desperately uncool – it has sweaty palms and an earnest smile on its face. What I know to be true is that one hopeful person will accomplish more than a hundred cynics. Why? Because the hopeful person will try[I love this idea of hope. Years ago I briefly wrote on a blog titled Optimistic Musings of a Pessimist. I definitely fall into this “recovering pessimist” category, and love the idea of being hopeful even better than optimism. Hope feels intentional and realistic…and decidedly un-pessimistic.]

Here’s to being hopeful!

Has anyone else had a chance to read this book yet? Goodreads suggests there is a very divided audience; I gave this book 5 stars, but there were a surprising number of low ratings so it’s clearly not everyone’s cup o’ tea!

Header photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

A Treat Is Only A Treat If I Feel Good Afterward

I love treats. Especially if said treat involves chocolate or chips or peanut butter. I like non-food treats, too. Like reading a book long past my bedtime or binging on a great documentary series.

But here’s the thing I’m learning about treats.

A treat is only a treat if I feel good afterward.

There are treats that are anticipatory – things that are most enjoyable when being considered. There are treats that are most enjoyable in the moment. There are treats that we enjoy primarily in retrospect (I’m thinking of a very jet-lagged trip to Denmark with a toddler; the pictures gloss over the horrors of sleep deprivation).

But I’m recognizing something fails to be a treat if it ultimately leaves me feeling unsatisfied physically or mentally.

I’ve been thinking about this in the context of food – likely one of the most common sources of troublesome “treats”. I like to blame my recent cravings on weather (#TheWinterThatNeverEnds) or my hormones, but I was categorizing my evening meeting with a tub of ice cream as a treat. But here’s the thing – even while I was eating it, I knew I’d regret it (too much dairy really sets off allergy symptoms, and I also have mild lactose intolerance). One week I ate ice cream four times. Once is a stretch, and four was at least three times too many.

For me, ice cream day after day isn’t a treat…because I don’t feel good afterward. Ideally, I want to seek out treats that have staying power.

A slice of cherry cheesecake (not too big, and made with lactose-free cream cheese, ideally) is a treat. Binging on Twizzlers a handful of times a year is a treat. Because I enjoy the anticipation, the actual event, and remembering the special and tasty “treat.”

Sometimes I can’t tell, of course, when an activity is going to veer out of “treat” territory and into something with negative implications. Sometimes a plan that looks like it will be a treat – a coffee date with friends when I’m too tired to enjoy it, the second serving of pie when I’m already full, the extra hour in bed that leaves me feeling sluggish and down for the rest of the day – ends up backfiring. And sometimes I need to eat ice cream four days in a row because it’s an imperfect, but functional, way to cope with something.

But at least now I can use the right definition.

For now I’m trying to listen to my body and mind, aiming to be honest with myself in recognizing that a treat is only a treat if I feel good afterward.

Your turn. How do you handle this idea of treats? What are your favourite treats and how do you manage them so they remain special and a positive force in your life?

Header photo by Daniel Öberg on Unsplash

Notes From A Decade of Being Tired

My youngest, 7, brought home a workbook about his family last week (to complete at home during online learning). There were various writing cues, including things like: “What Makes My Family Special,” “Our Languages,” and “Special Celebrations.” On the main page, his Grade 1 class had been tasked with writing a family overview; the Coles notes, so to speak, of our family.

I take these things with a grain of salt. In preschool – when asked on one of these templates what her father did at work all day – 4-year-old Abby wrote: “He does nothing.” This while we were in the middle of bootstrapping two small businesses and working night and day to get things up off the ground.

But still, Levi’s answer did stop me in my tracks.

“My Mommy likes to rest.”

Not, “My Mommy reads to me,” or “My Mommy takes me on adventures,” or “My Mommy likes to snuggle with me.”

Instead, he chose: “My Mommy likes to rest.

*This is a public blog so I’ll spare many of the particulars, leaving savvy readers to fill in the blanks.

Since my first period at age 12, I’ve been dogged by issues. By 14 I was in a doctor’s office getting my first round of iron supplements for suspected anemia; by 18 my body had already rejected typical hormonal interventions to help combat the issue. Overall, though, things seemed tolerable. I needed a lot of sleep, but got through the days without too much trouble and concentrated enough to be a high performer academically.

But by the time I graduated from university, crushing fatigue had set in, along with occasional, debilitating migraines.

I went to another doctor, concerned about my suddenly fuzzy brain and unrelenting exhaustion. She told me I was overstretched – studying, researching, working, and planning a wedding. She prescribed a massage.

I pushed through, slept longer. Soon I was struggling to get out of bed each morning. After 12 hours of sleep, I would still wake up feeling exhausted.

After a year of this, I started needing a nap in the middle of the day, a first for me. Turns out I was pregnant! Suddenly I had a legitimate excuse for all this exhaustion.

I would nap on the linoleum floor of my lab, closing the door while everyone was on lunch break and telling myself that crashing on a cold, hard floor every afternoon was normal behaviour.

Then of course came the mind-numbing phase of infant care – an unexpected C-section, “failure” with breastfeeding despite Herculean efforts (#SheCanStillBeADoctor), and the anticipated (anticipated in the sense that everyone tells you what to expect…but nothing can prepare you for the intensity of being responsible for a helpless colicky infant 24/7; nothing I tell you) blur of days and nights.

But, I reasoned, fatigue with a newborn is par for the course. I kept plugging away. It was normal to feel tired, I repeated over and over. My body and mind had been through a lot, and sleep deprivation in those first few years is a special form of torture (periodic blissful middle-of-the-night snuggles aside).

For a time, my hormonal fluctuations and period issues seemed to improve. Another run-in with migraines was greatly improved by a few visits to the chiropractor. I felt like I could do this.

But then another baby came along which brought more fatigue (expected) and significant setbacks with monthly cycle issues (unexpected). I hit another wall. More bloodwork, more suggestions. More exhaustion.

And I’ve kept bashing and bashing away at that wall…and just can’t get through to the other side.

I’ve been living with chronic fatigue for over a decade now. And it’s hard.

About five years ago I got to the point where I could barely get up the hill on our family walking route. So my medical team broadened the scope of bloodwork and checked my ferritin levels. My ferritin came back rock-bottom. Success! I took new, specialized iron supplements and, for a time, things leveled out.

Until they didn’t. The iron stopped working; ferritin dropped regularly but even when levels were okay, I was blindsided by fatigue.

I’ve been to naturopaths and osteopaths and acupuncturists. I’ve had those doctor-recommended massages. I’ve talked to therapists.

I cut out gluten. Then I cut out gluten and dairy and caffeine. Then peanut butter (that one really hurt). I did Whole30’s. I went to get a meridian stress assessment and cut out soy and garlic. I saw an allergist (avoid grapes and mushrooms, he tells me) and was checked for Celiac. I took supplements – royal jelly and ginseng and all sorts of other natural remedies.

I’ve had so many sets of bloodwork, I’ve long ago lost count; complete thyroid checks and every hormone marker in the book. It all comes back…perfect.

I’ve tried the suggestions and my body seems to reject it all (sometimes literally; again, not going to share too many details here, but let’s just say a doctor told me a certain device that is supposed to work wonders for everyone and stay in place for 5 years was a dismal failure that my body literally rejected for, I believe, the first time among a patient in her practice. Go me.).

I’ve exercised (but not too much and, sometimes, when my body revolts, not at all) and made sure to get plenty of sleep (my recent short stint with insomnia aside). The kids have both slept through the night since about 6 months of age (I know, I know). I don’t smoke and I don’t drink and I consume very little processed food, focussing on fruits and veggies; I’ve eliminated this, that, and the other thing for months on end. I have textbook blood pressure and I’ve gotten my genetically-high cholesterol (thanks, Mom) to its best-ever level. I’ve cut out dyes and fragrances.

Various doctors tell me, somewhat sadly: “You’re doing everything right.

It doesn’t feel that way to me.

In May of this year, I started iron infusions. “It’s time,” says my family doctor.

Tired, but optimistic, eyes.

I sit and extend more arms. Endure more needles, more tests. Feel more glimmers of hope.

I wait the prescribed months and sadly answer: “No better.

I still wake up each day tired.

I try cold showers. For months. They are as terrible as they sound. I give myself happy checkmarks in a bullet journal for enduring these icy blasts. I give up and go back to scalding heat. I’m no more – or less – tired for it. I’ll forgo the checkmarks.

I try intermittent fasting (it helps…a bit…sometimes). I try caffeine, and then no caffeine. I drink raw kombucha; I buy tyrosine. I drop Vitamin D suspended in olive oil on top of my tongue and dissolve B12 under my tongue.

A few months ago, for the first time, we decide to try SSRIs. Maybe it’s all in my mind, I wonder?

I hope?

I talk to a therapist again. This one is lovely with her soothing accent; yes I struggle with anxiety (don’t we all) and perfectionism, but she tells me I have a good mental health toolbox, that I’m doing: “The right things.” I’ve heard this before.

So I talk and I swallow and I’m still exhausted. (*Update: I had a number of side effects when trialing an SSRI and, in agreement with my doctor, relatively quickly went off the medication.)

Last week I called my OB/GYN. “It’s time,” I said. One major energy drain (literally) will be behind me, but this surgery brings new risks, especially because of scar tissue from my C-sections.

And I can’t help but wonder (worry) – what if this doesn’t “fix” me either?

To others (friends, family, anyone here reading) I may look like I have lots of energy.

I do my best.

I show up: I go to church and I grocery shop and I read and take the kids skating and sledding and make meals and go out for coffee with friends and help pick the colour of our siding and make photobooks and decorate Christmas trees and enjoy at-home date nights with my husband. I love it all. Those moments are truly precious and joyful.

But I feel like I’m moving through molasses for almost every single moment of those experiences. My brain is fuzzy and my body aches and I’m so tired of being tired.

This post isn’t a call for sympathy (really!). Because I’m learning: we all have our hard thing.

I know of a reader who struggles with rheumatoid arthritis. I’m sure others struggle with chronic injuries or dietary intolerances or long-term stress at work or aging parents or challenging teenagers or all of those things combined.

I have friends facing relational fractures, auto-immune disorders, debilitating allergies, and long-term impacts from cancer treatments.

We all have our hard.

And I’m just waving my hand to say: having an undiagnosed and/or chronic condition can feel…lonely, exhausting, and depleting.

I don’t try to hide it…but I do try to hide it. I don’t want to be a burden, yet I feel the weight of it all. And I know it shows, despite my best efforts; he’s right – Mommy does like to rest.

I can either live life through it, or I can curl up and sleep life away. Either way I’ll be exhausted, so I might as well be exhausted with memories. The vacations and the trips and the joyfinding – they almost all happen in a haze of exhaustion. It’s my normal. And you learn to live with it, but you also don’t.

Wishing you all healthy bodies and restful sleep but know that whatever hard you’re wading through now, it’s okay to whisper – or shout – that it’s hard. Because we need to share the hard and share the joy.

Look for more of both from me here…

Header photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

On Lamenting and Accepting (Temporarily) Survival Mode

I had something else ready and scheduled for today but ended up having a lot of thoughts (which I’m not entirely sure I’ve managed to articulate coherently) ruminating over the weekend.

I try to be “authentic” in this space. To write about the good and the bad, the easy and the hard. Some things don’t need to be discussed in a public forum, of course, but I think that the struggles of parenting – generally and then more specifically in the context of a global pandemic – are of relevance and critical significance. We are currently raising the next generation in a time of near-constant upheaval and immense stress. As parents we feel both the pressure to insulate our children from that upheaval and stress (while not over-insulating them – being left to determine how to best address their unique concerns and frustrations honestly without adding additional burdens to their young lives), while we parents navigate our own suite of challenges.

It feels a bit like Cirque du Soleil asked us to headline their tightrope act without sending us to circus school first.

Here in Nova Scotia we’re back in quasi-lockdown and I am in survival mode.

In a few hours my two children will log on for their first day of online learning in 2022. And, in a few hours, I will log on for my first day of online learning in 2022. I will be attending Grades 1 and 5. Again. Simultaneously.

I will no doubt spend hours jumping between bedrooms – helping with QR codes, reestablishing Wifi connections, keeping the younger one in his seat (except when he’s supposed to participate in morning calisthenics…when he’ll insist on staying in his seat and I’ll have to convince him to leave his seat – and yes, this is as frustrating as it sounds); I will undoubtedly also help untangle headphone cords, help locate the red crayon required for a group craft, and supervise and count down the 80 jumping jacks listed on the daily physical education log.

This is in addition to making sure (with my husband’s help) that they have clean clothes, are fed, get time outside to play and exercise, do their chores, get enough sleep, brush their teeth and generally ensure their many emotional and physical needs are taken into account.

Can I be brutally honest? I am dreading all of it – from crayon hunting to calisthenics to cooking to gearing them up in winter garb (yes, they dress themselves; and yes, it still feels like a Herculean effort to help them get out the door and even more of a Herculean effort to help them deal with all the wet gear when they come back inside).

Not because any of this is overly difficult or intellectually taxing. But because I am bone-weary.

Two comments last week really stood out. First, someone mentioned how wonderful it is that I seem to be able to find both joy and fun in parenting (a reference to the insightful book by Jennifer Senior called All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood which, incidentally, I read before a global pandemic zapped many of us of so many sources of joy and fun). Another commenter expressed appreciation that I identified just how long the days can feel.

It’s true – I do look for joy and fun; I take the kids skating on outdoor ponds and we bake cookies and go on family walks and we decorate Christmas trees together. But it takes effort and energy to create these moments and there are still a lot of hours to fill.

Full disclosure – many of those hours are neither joyful nor fun.

By Saturday morning I was exhausted.

Due to strong winds and significant snowfall, we lost power twice in a 24-hour period (including during the night, which woke me up). When the power came on at 6:30 am, I wasted no time and indulged in a long, hot shower. Then I carried hot bowls of oatmeal from the microwave and did something else (I think?) to contribute to breakfast preparations. The kids were already fighting, that much I remember. Likely over who got the spoons out of the drawer or something along those critical lines.

And then I signed off parenting for the day (because I’m fortunate enough to be able to do this; I think about the millions of women and men who juggle parenting alone and I feel guilty for needing to “sign off” parental duty when that isn’t an option for so many).

But I did sign off, collapsed on the bed and slept from 9:30 am – 12:30 pm. Aside from some run-ins with the flu, this is basically the latest I’ve “slept” in for over a decade – including during periods of sleep training and jet lag. Then I got up (ate some delicious food my husband had prepared) and went for a solo walk, ending up with a spontaneous invitation for tea with a friend – where she served me piping hot chai in a multi-coloured polka-dotted mug (that couldn’t have screamed of “joy” more loudly if the mug had its own set of vocal cords and a megaphone).

This friend is at the opposite end of the parenting spectrum; her children are all grown and she and her husband were alone this Christmas, for the first time since becoming parents several decades ago.

I took off my coat and settled in by her fire and talked. We discussed the good gifts of God surrounding us – the generosity of neighbours, the collective spirit to endure and help each other through these challenging days, our beautiful town. We talked about how stunning the trees looked, glistening white under the heavy snow and how simple things – like the giant inflatable teddy bear on her lawn – can bring such joy (seriously, it’s adorable). And then we discussed the weight of life lately, especially as it relates to parenting in a pandemic. I told her how hard it can be to articulate the exhaustion – not knowing when this will end, yes, but more generally the 24/7 responsibility that is parenthood. Harder in a pandemic – with playdates canceled and schools closed and support networks unexpectedly fractured. But hard before, too. The weight of responsibility can feel enormous, our identity as “modern” parents uncertain.

Today we are far less clear about what “parenting” entails. We know what it doesn’t entail: teaching kids mathematics and geography and literature (schools do that); providing them with medical treatment (pediatricians); sewing them dresses and trousers (factories abroad, whose wares are then distributed by Old Navy); growing them food (factory farms, whose goods are then distributed by supermarkets); giving them vocational training (two–year colleges, classes, videos). What parenting does involve, however, is much harder to define. The sole area of agreement for almost all middle–class parents – whether they make their children practice the violin for three hours a day or exert no pressure on them at all – is that whatever they are doing is for the child’s sake, and the child’s sake alone. Parents no longer raise children for the family’s sake or that of the broader world.

Jennifer Senior

Well, in a few hours I will help teach my kids math and geography and literature. As for vocational training, during the first lockdown, we taught Abby how to do laundry; this week she got a crash course in scrubbing toilets.

They clean their rooms and help prepare their own breakfasts, make their own beds, and do quiet time in their rooms each day – we’re trying to raise them to be independent thinkers, team players, and to have practical skills for the real world.

Before the “sacralization” of childhood…parents’ hearts weren’t expected to double as emotional seismographs. It was enough that they mended their kids’ clothes, fed them, taught them to do good, and prepared them for the rigors of the world. It was only after parents’ primary obligations to their kids had been completely outsourced – to public schools, to pediatricians, to supermarkets, to the Gap – that the emotional needs of their children came sharply into focus.

Jennifer Senior

I want my kids to be happy and well adjusted – don’t we all? But their emotional needs are hard to gauge when they face a set of challenges I’m not sure how to help them navigate. Their emotional needs are hard to gauge when they’re fighting (almost) constantly – most likely out of boredom/fear/frustration because they have essentially been cooped up for weeks on end with events canceled and friends isolating due to COVID exposures and inclement Canadian winter weather. Their emotional needs are hard to gauge when the rigor’s of the world are 3-ply masks and “no, that’s canceled” and hand-sanitizing stations and segregation from friends at school.

I’m doing my best but it simultaneously feels like too much and too little.

And then there is the guilt. Always the guilt. I got to “sign off” for a day, enjoy food prepared by a spouse, and sip tea from a mug that looked like it got caught in a confetti explosion.

I truly feel gratitude for all of that…and yet I still feel like I’ve had a face-to-face encounter with a freight train. And that it leveled me onto the tracks.

When the first lockdown happened, in March of 2020, it was scary and daunting – but there was also a sense of determination to get through this, together. Used to regular work travel, suddenly we were all together as a family around the clock. Yes, there was some doom-scrolling and I laid in bed and refreshed news sites over and over in those early days. And yes the kids watched a Disney movie every single weekday for several months (thank you, Disney+ from the bottom of my heart). But mostly we settled in and decided to make the most of a hard situation; we donned life jackets and boated out to an island (picnicking with sheep and collecting treasure from a shipwreck), we visited some lighthouses and then some more lighthouses and then our favourite lighthouse of all (multiple times). We drove the world-famous Cabot Trail (and saw more lighthouses). We hiked – woodland trails, beaches, bike paths, the streets in our neighbourhood. We saw waterfalls and visited anti-submarine bunkers from WWII, and went downhill skiing for the first time. We played games and taught life skills. And it was hard and exhausting, but there were so many moments of joy and fun.

And then this summer we slowed down because…we were tired. We rolled up our sleeves and got vaccines and stayed home, not so much because of the pandemic, but because we were running out of steam. We adventured when we could muster the energy – we roasted marshmallows over the fire and went fishing and some of us played in poison ivy (sigh) but we also took more naps and guzzled more coffee…and slowly moved into survival mode.

Laying in bed at 12:30 pm on Saturday, I realized that I’m “outed:”

  • I’m gamed out – I’ve played Sorry and Chutes and Ladders (I even made a life-size version of Chutes and Ladders last year – see picture here). I have played literally hundreds of games of UNO. I’ve played Crokinole (including by candelight during last weeks’ power outage) and Codenames. I’m tired of games.
  • I’m played out – I’ve played dressup and Shopkins and LEGO and hide-and-seek. I want to hide, on my bed, for a month.
  • I’m adventured out – see above.
  • I am Harry Potter-triviaed out; I have, not a word of a lie, answered at least 100 Harry Potter trivia questions in the last week. Of the “stump-JK-Rowling” quality. Abby, bless her, loves this activity and it’s something I can do. I try my hardest to come up with the right answers (and breathe a sigh of relief when it’s a multiple-choice question). Do YOU know the name of Nicolas Flamel’s wife; the middle name of Harry, Ron, and Hermoine; which Weasley twin was born first; the first and last name of the people Harry, Ron and Hermoine transformed into using Polyjuice Potion in The Deathly Hallows; the name of chapter 9 in the 7th book? Well I do…and my brain is ready to explode.
  • I’m read out – I’ve read book after book after book. I’ve read picture books and Magic Treehouse Books. I’ve read about red-headed Anne’s and girls living in the Alps and a friendly giant with enormous ears. I’ve downloaded audiobooks when I couldn’t read another word. And there were still hours left to fill.
  • I’m guilted out – I have incalcuable advantages – healthy children, a supportive spouse, loving family – and know so, so many are struggling at levels that are literally almost beyond imaging, but I’m tired of feeling guilty that, despite my advantages, this still feels hard. How can I be so blind to all my blessings? Why can’t I only focus on the good? Why does this all feel so hard?

I feel like I’ve stubbed a toe when others have amputated a limb…but my stubbed toe hurts.

Years and years ago I came across a book whose tagline read something along the lines of: “Stop surviving and start thriving.” I never got around to reading it; the title threw me off. About the same time we found ourselves in a time vortex; our 2-year-old was sick with pneumonia and survival was literally the only thing on our minds. For three straight weeks I knew neither the date nor the time of day. Time lost all meaning – there was just sickness and antibiotic doses and doctor’s appointments and weariness. Sleep sometimes came at 3 pm; hot showers and food could happen at 3 am.

We survived and that was all that needed to happen. The thriving had to wait.

More recently, I wrote about my decision to stop my Bible-in-one-year on day 311. I didn’t know what to read in 2022. I’m tired – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. But then I felt drawn to read through the Psalms. They are full of joy and praise! But equally, they are full of lament (from this morning’s Psalm: “I am weary with my moaning…“)

I don’t want to complain right now – I have so much to be thankful for. But I do need to lament. When we complain we gripe; we give voice to anger or dissatisfactions. When we lament we mourn; we express sadness over what we longed for and the current reality. As one source put it: A complaint often turns into an outburst. A lament is a sorrowful prayer.” And also, I think, an expectant longing for hope.

In my first day of reading I came across Psalm 1:4 [talking about people of faith]:

And they will be like a tree planted by a river of water that brings forth fruit in their season.

The woods out my back window are currently heavily laden with snow. There is no obvious outward growth during this long winter season. They only need to survive; stay rooted and firm during the howling winds, falling snow, heavy ice. But inside they are developing structure, becoming hardy…and when the spring comes, they will be renewed, turn green, stretch upwards and thrive.

It’s hard to strike the right balance – on a public blog, with our friends and loved ones and with ourselves. We want to find joy and practice gratitude and celebrate the successes and blessings we have but I think it is also human and natural (and spiritually and emotionally healthy) to lament. And then to hope.

Happy Monday, friends. May you find both joy and time to lament (if needed) today.

Header photo by Artur Stanulevich on Unsplash

Word(s) of the Year: Be Kind

Forgive me for being unfashionably late to the party – I realize the “word-of-the-year” idea has been trending for over a decade now. I did latch on to the concept once, with mediocre enthusiasm/success, when I picked the word “Simplify” back in 2015ish. We were a family of four living in a very small apartment that had to serve as our home office, living spaces, and a storage facility for some large work equipment. To say it felt cramped is like saying you might feel a bit damp in the middle of a tsunami.

But I think having that word prompt did have some impact: I wrote it on the outside of my planner that year and would get periodic nudges to say “no” to a commitment or to downsize a particular storage tote. In subsequent years I’ve more fully embraced many of the tenants of minimalism and, in general, aim to keep life as simple as possible (this is often easier said than done).

All that to say: I didn’t feel any external pressure to participate in this sort of thing (I’ve written before about all the “good” things I don’t have to do and this certainly falls into that category), but couldn’t help shake my idea once it lodged itself inside my weary-from-pandemic-life grey matter.


My word(s)/motto for 2022 is/are: Be Kind.


Well, first, why not? Growing up in Sunday School, the Golden Rule was one of the earliest lessons I remember hearing and it certainly bears repeating in our current global milieu. Somehow it can feel harder to live like Jesus as we get older, but those early lessons are no less important.

More specifically? Because I know I have a long way to go in this regard.

I recently got the chance to discuss an anxiety-producing social situation with a very patient and dear friend. I was afraid of how I was being perceived (perhaps justifiably so) in a complicated situation with many moving parts and considerations. At the end of an impassioned speech that left me questioning my motives and capacity for kindness, my friend (very kindly) told me that I was one of the kindest people she knew.

She does know a lot of people…but I’m not convinced.

Because I know myself.

Because I know the (usually unwarranted) glares I give my kids that could melt ice. And I want them to remember me smiling, not glaring.

Because I know the times I’ve modified my walking route to avoid talking to a specific person – someone that I know is looking for friendship.

Because in 2022 I want to be kinder:

  1. Kinder to the kids (with my words and my eyes). Enough said.
  2. Kinder to my spouse. He is my best friend in all the world, but I can be an absolutely terrible nag sometimes (maybe a lot of the time?!) and have a tendancy to “lecture.” I really want to get better about this negative habit.
  3. Kinder to my friends. I have the annoying habit of interrupting other people mid-sentence. I keep telling myself to reign it in, but seem to fail miserably. Hopefully a reminder to “Be kind” will prompt me in this direction.
  4. Kinder to strangers. (I need to smile more, though that can be tricky with everyone wearing masks; side note – when a lady behind me in line complimented me on my earrings a month ago, it MADE MY DAY. I feel so hidden when out in public which, as an introvert, I actually like to a certain extent, but that kindness from a friendly stranger who was standing 6 feet away felt so refreshing).
  5. Kinder to myself. I am going to glare and lecture and interrupt. A lot of the time I’ve been too rigid and have expected too much from myself. I’m hoping, in some areas of life at least, that by asking less from myself, I might – paradoxically enough – manage to do more? Do more things I enjoy, be more productive, explore creative passions…be kinder to those I love.

So that’s where I’m at – looking quasi-optimistically ahead to 2022 with a vision to be kind(er).

If you participate in the one-word annual theme, what did you pick this year? I really like Tobia’s choice of “Celebrate.” How whimsical and…celebratory!

Header photo by Dee @ Copper and Wild on Unsplash

I Checked My Phone 89 Times on 19 December. Or, Why We Might Need To Break Up With Our Phones

I have a love-hate relationship with my iPhone. On one hand, I appreciate having the world at my fingertips: a state-of-the-art camera, instant connection to the people I love (for both meaningful conversations and to facilitate the sharing of hilarious memes), a flashlight, timer, dictionary, and even an app (that I downloaded on an island in the middle of nowhere, I might add) to alert me to the fact that yes, in fact, my son had been playing in poison ivy for almost an hour. Cue facepalm.

But I hate that I turn to it for mindless entertainment. I hate that I turn to it to numb me from the stress and anxiety of parenting and a pandemic and renovations (even though, paradoxically enough, I often end up reading the news which does nothing to bolster my mood). I hate that I pick it up over and over and over again each day – to check the weather, look up lyrics to a song, or to Google “How many toilet paper rolls – jumbo size – would it take to circumnavigate the Earth.” You know, incredibly important tasks of that ilk.

I hate that I can be distracted when the kids are trying to interact with me – often under the guise of helping them (texting parents to arrange playdates, for example). I hate that I reach for it first thing in the morning and that I feel panicked if I head out to run errands and realize I’ve left it home on the counter.

I say all this and yet I think I actually have a lot of well-established boundaries with my phone. I don’t text while driving, don’t have any social media apps (which makes sense because I don’t have any social media accounts!), and generally keep my daily screen time below 2 hours (and most weeks this hovers around the 1 hour/day mark).

I’ve decluttered my home screen, leaving only a handful of apps, and I try to only check e-mail on my phone a few times a day. I deleted all my news apps years ago, so have to navigate to physical web addresses each time (which does help lessen my news consumption, but I still head to news sites more than would be advisable given the general tone of coverage).

But, but, but…

I can tell there is significant room for improvement. I know there are ways to decrease my screen time and, more importantly to me right now, improve how I feel when I walk away from time on my digital device.

I talk with my family a lot about things being net-negative or net-positive. I think, despite all the upsides, social media is a net-negative experience for almost all users (and I believe the mental health statistics from the last decade would back me up on this). Most technologies have positives and negatives, and it’s all about assessing the net result. For example, washing machines can break down clothing fibers far more quickly than hand-washing, but I can think of a dozen reasons why I’m not rushing to eBay to source a washboard and lye soap anytime soon. To me, a washing machine falls neatly into the net-positive category.

But right now, despite my best efforts and “good” habits, my phone feels like a net-negative. I think it has less to do with the amount of time (quantity) and more to do with the function of that time (quality).

I just finished reading How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price. Instead of trying to summarize everything she said, I’m just going to discuss some of the key takeaways I wrote down while reading the book (it’s short, readable, very practical, and I would highly recommend it to anyone that wants to revisit their relationship with smartphones) + some direct quotes.

Action items I’m implementing

  1. I’ve put a hair elastic around my phone as a tangible/sensory reminder to me to pay attention each time I pick up my phone. She calls this sort of thing “speed bumps” – little reminders that slow us down and either make time on our phones seem less efficient/attractive or, at the very least, leave us aware that we’ve reached for our phone again. [She also suggests changing the picture on the lock screen to something like “Notice” or a taking a picture of a piece of paper – bonus points if someone you love is holding it up – that reads: “Why did you pick me up?”I love my current picture (of the hubby and I on vacation) too much to do that, but I still thought it was a good idea.]
  2. Use the WWW prompt. Price suggests we ask ourselves the following questions when we’re reaching for our phone: What For (Why am I picking up the phone?Name a specific purpose – to order underwear on Amazon, to look up reviews on a new restaurant, to kill time?), Why Now (Is it practical – to take a picture of something; is it situational – am I on an awkward elevator ride; is it emotional – I want a distraction?), and What Else (What else could I be doing instead of turning to my phone?)?
  3. Pick a new charging spot. I’m a bit stymied by this one, but will report back when I find a better location than my bedside table which certainly doesn’t help me avoid the last-thing-at-night/first-thing-in-the-morning phone usage. For the last few days I’ve been leaving my phone on the dresser and not charging it until it gets low. A happy by-product of using my phone less – it doesn’t need to be charged every day and I can always plug it in first thing in the morning, which will make it less convenient to over-consume in the first place.
  4. Track total pickups. I think I have a pretty good handle on total time (I like this to be about an hour, and am generally within 20 minutes or so of this, but can definitely spike over 2 hours without much effort, especially if I’ve had a tough day). I think my bigger issue is how often I reach for my phone and how that short check-in with texts can morph into 30 minutes catastrophizing about COVID and climate change and politics on the BBC news website. In my defence of the screenshot below – some of the 89 pick-ups on December 18th are related to preparing all the verses for our Christmas gifts; the fact that the Bible app was responsible for at least 17 of those pickups has to count for something! Also, I don’t mind seeing a high Camera count because that is one of my favourite uses for the phone. The issue is I’ll open up my camera and then see a text and then enter a search string and…you know how the rest of this story goes, right?

QUotes that stood out

“Smartphones…nag us. They disturb us when we’re working. They demand our attention and reward us when we give it to them. Smartphones engage in disruptive behaviors that have traditionally been performed only by extremely annoying people.”

  • I bolded that last bit because…it literally made me laugh out loud.

“When we check our phones, we occasionally find something satisfying – a complimentary e-mail…an interesting piece of news. The resulting burst of dopamine makes us begin to associate the art of checking our phones with the receipt of a reward. Similarly, there are times when checking your phone out of anxiety really does leave you feeling soothed. 

Once that link has been established, it doesn’t matter if we’re rewarded only one time out of every fifty. Thanks to dopamine, our brains remember that one time. And instead of dissuading us, the fact that we can’t predict which of our fifty checks is going to be rewarding makes us check our phones even more. 

Want to know another device that uses intermittent rewards to drive compulsive behavior? Slot machines.

In fact, the similarities between the two devices are so powerful that Harris [who wrote an article titled: How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind] frequently compares smartphones to slot machines [considered to be one of the most addictive devices ever invented] we keep in our pockets.”

  • Okay, this hits close to home. I actually spent a year of my Master’s using classic Pavlovian conditioning – on honeybees, not humans or dogs, admittedly – and my all-time favourite clip from the office is the Altoid exchange between Dwight and Jim. In other words: I should recognize this pattern and know better.

[Referring to social media and “likes”]: “Put this all together, and it makes sense that spending a lot of time on social media could be associated with depression and lower self-esteem. What doesn’t make sense is that we are deliberately choosing to relive the worst parts of middle school.

  • This also made me laugh because…it’s so relatable. Middle school (and high school, too) are just so objectively tough and awkward when it comes to the judgement of a few, specific “popular” people we admire for their perceived status who don’t care about our emotional wellbeing. And now, as a society, we are so often willingly opening ourselves up to the same sort of critique!?

“…a New York Times analysis calculated that as of 2014, Facebook users were spending a collective 39,757 years’ worth of attention on the site, every single day. It’s attention that we didn’t spend on our families, or our friends, or ourselves. And just like time, once we’ve spent attention, we can never get it back. 

This is a really big deal, because our attention is the most valuable thing we have. We experience only what we pay attention to. We remember only what we pay attention to. When we decide what to pay attention to in the moment, we are making a broader decision about how we want to spend our lives.”

  • I am so easily distracted, not just by my phone but I think largely because of it; because I’ve wired myself to short bursts of attention, to supposed “multitasking” and to always feeling like I need to be doing…something. Can anyone else see parallels with Oliver Burkeman’s productivity trap discussion?

“…if you wanted to invent a device that could rewire our minds, if you wanted to create a society of people who were perpetually distracted, isolated, and overtired, if you wanted to weaken our memories and damage our capacity for focus and deep thought, if you wanted to reduce empathy, encourage self-absorption, and redraw the lines of social etiquette, you’d likely end up with a smartphone. “

  • Hmmm. She’s clearly not holding back any punches in this quote.

“Most of the things we do on our phones – reading the news, playing games – are stimulating activities. Imagine how difficult it would be to doze off if all of the people you follow on social media were in the room with you, the television was blaring in the background, and several friends were having a political debate. That’s essentially what you’re doing when you bring your phone into bed with you.”

  • I thought this was a great perspective/unique way of visualizing the problem. I have definitely caught myself going to my phone for one final “check-in” before bed and seeing a challenging work e-mail, depressing news story or frustrating text…and then not being able to get it off my mind.

“We learn to stay with the uneasiness, the tightening, the itch of [our cravings]. We train in sitting still with our desire to scratch. This is how we learn to stop the chain reaction of habitual patterns that otherwise will rule our lives.” Pema Chodron

  • I read about something similar in Russ Harris’ The Happiness Trap (also highly recommend) where he talks about surfing the urge. This could be related to overconsumption of food or getting angry at your kids or, in this case, the urge to pick up a smartphone. Being conscious of the urge (or itch) is part of the solution – once we’re aware of the triggers we can actually tune into the feedback our body is giving us (physical and mental clues) and simply try to ride it out.

“The point of breaking up with our phones isn’t to deprive ourselves of the benefits of modern technology. It’s to set boundaries so that we can enjoy the good parts of our phones while also protecting ourselves from the bad.”

  • How true! There is SO much good about phone technology and I appreciate the fact this book isn’t designed to be a giant guilt-trip.

The difference between technology and slavery is that slaves are fully aware that they are not free.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb

  • Again, it’s about awareness. And too often I pick the phone up out of habit, not with a true sense of purpose in mind (or, if my purpose is clear, I quickly forget it with notifications and pinging notifcations).

[Quote from a participant in the author’s focus group]: “Checking your phone is like picking your nose: there’s nothing wrong with it, but no one should have to watch you do it.” Alex

  • Made me laugh, while also being insightful.

“At first you’re likely to feel physically and emotionally twitchy, as if your brain is banging on a door that usually opens, and panicking when it realizes that it’s locked.”

  • Again, I liked this imagery. We get so used to reaching for our phone in a lineup or when we’re angry or overwhelmed or scared or bored or tired; also, it’s another reminder to sit still with the “itch.”

“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who, in the midst of the crowd, keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • I am an introvert. I think I’ve come to realize the importance of this aspect of my personality more and more (likely compounded by the fact, for many months, there was very little chance for solitude with pandemic lockdowns and a young family at home). I like stillness and solitude and communion with God and spending time in nature, and need to be more proactive about seeking this out each and every day, even when I can’t necessarily carve out solo time.

Phew…that was a big, long post.

What are your thoughts about phones/screentime? Anything you’re looking to change in 2022 or any “hacks” you’ve successfully implemented to improve your interactions with your smartphone?

Header photo by Benjaminrobyn Jespersen on Unsplash